Tuesday, 25 November 2014

I am the lizard queen

This post is in honour of Dr Dolittle, who unintentionally started a rather hilarious conversation yesterday afternoon.

It feels like a lot of my blog posts involve complaining, so for the moment I'd like to tell a little story that expresses how much fun we have when those pesky students have gone home.

Now there have been many fun shenanigans at work, including watching my mentor teacher whizz around on a scooter, all of us betting The Prince he couldn't run blindfolded (turns out, he can), some ice bucket challenges and just the random chats we have when we're not tearing hair out with marking. This was one of those.

Dolittle was hanging out in our office, and somehow the conversation turned to thinking of people as animals.

"You're definitely an animal," Dolittle nodded, looking at me.

I asked her what kind.

"Um.." She trailed off. "I can't think of what it was now, but I know it's something."

The Prince suggested Dolittle was 'forgetting' what it was because it was something horrible.

"No, it's not!" she protested. "It's nothing bad. I think..." she looked at me, "You're a lizard."

She couldn't understand why everyone started laughing. And she kept repeating that being a lizard wasn't a bad thing. Apparently they are wise and have their life figured out, so if that's what Dolittle thinks of me I'll take it as a compliment. Although now all I can think of is this...

Lel. Anyway, we all started thinking about what animals we would be. It's not definitive yet, but so far we have...

Dr Dolittle: A deer. Tall, graceful, but occasionally lost and confused. 

DG: A kangaroo (because she's feisty and kangaroos box). 

The Last Unicorn: Surprisingly not a unicorn. Apparently a persian cat. 

The Prince: Sun Bear, or Koala Bear. Something sleepy and possibly drunk. 

Mentor: Hamster. Or Meerkat. Obviously. 

Douchebag Poet: Monkey. He throws things, but not faeces. Or so he claims.

There were more, but I have to go to a family dinner and can't remember them and I don't have time to sit and think. Soz others. 

Oh yeah, and me: a lizard.

So that's the kind of stuff we talk about at work. It keeps me sane, and laughing, and I wouldn't want it any other way. 


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Meet the family.

I suppose it's time I share a bit about the people I work with.

Starting with the most influential, we have the Mentor. (I always feel like I'm part of The Hero's Journey when I say 'Mentor'... or The Hunger Games).

The Mentor is a very energetic guy who scared the hell out me on my first day. He knows a lot of stuff and talks very fast and if you give him the opportunity to cartwheel or ride around the school on a scooter, trust me, he will take it. He's also a great teacher, both to his students and to me, and when he leaves at the end of this year he'll be sorely missed. When I first met him I was terrified, because I didn't know how I would keep up with someone like that and of course, no one wants to be disappointing. But, we get along gret and his enthusiasm and rapport with students is nothing short of inspiring (except on a Monday, he's grumpy on Mondays). 

I guess if we follow that order, we have the other mentors.

Acting Dean/Second-Mentor is sort of like Mentor's polar opposite. The yin to his yang? I like making them sound like a couple. Second-Mentor is hard to describe. He's a successful writer and poet, he's idolised by most students and staff as a teacher, he gives great advice when I ask for help, and on Friday he threw my pen in the bin. Few escape his teasing and pranks, but most of them are directed at the Mentor (he loves it, really). I should probably give him a better name. Is Douchebag Poet too mean?

Next we have Edna Mode, named after the costume designer from The Incredibles, because of her fabulous wardrobe. Man, I would kill for her wardrobe. Plus this mentor is tiny, talented and terrifying, much like the character from the movie (and mayyyyybe they look a little similar). E is the person you go to when you need to get shit done. Resources? She has anything you might need. Planning documents? Already done, and sent to your inbox. Need to double-check what the word 'vectors' means? She's got your back. 

I'm struggling to come up with a name for our final mentor. 'Superwoman' seems a bit unimaginative. 'Han Solo' kinda works, but he's a guy and she's a lady. 'I can't believe I'm not Coffee' is too long. 'Warrior Princess' -because she fights for what is right and remains classy while doing so- makes me think of Xena. Anyway, this mother, writer, teacher and many other things kinda inspired me to start this blog- she has her own, along with a published book. Her Facebook statuses make me laugh, and she can be counted on as one of the people you can exchange a look with when Mentor is rambling on about something at the lunch table. 

Okay, the mentors are done. Now allow me to introduce you to my work-siblings, my wolfpack, my emotional support and comic relief, the interns! 

They get new names too, because as Douchebag Poet said to me, we're all classroom teachers now we've passed prac. Yay.  

Intern 1: This gal is the youngest of us, and she makes our group look cool. Her hair is blue, her clothes are edgy and she's a musician. She's well-versed in stuff like comics and superheroes, and she works in a games shop as well as our school. I don't know how she has time to do anything. I've only seen her teach once, but I was rather jealous of the rapport and confidence she has in front of a class. 
Her new name: The Last Unicorn. 
Her mentor: Edna Mode. 

Her spirit animal

Intern 2: The self-confessed overachiever. This lady has no time for bullshit, not from us, not from other teachers, not from admin, not from her students or even her own children. She's the one who's brave enough to say what you're all thinking but would never dare to speak aloud. Always mad about something, but always good for a laugh (or at least, a good sport to be laughed at). I look forward to her showing up every morning with some withering remark about school, a parent, someone at uni or one of us. 
New name: Director General (DG). Her future job in five years or so. 
Her mentor: Superwoman/Han Solo/I-can't-believe-I'm-not-Coffee

Intern 3: The most relaxed person you will ever meet in your life. He approaches work and uni with the attitude that everything will work out, and luckily for him (infuriating for us) it does. Director General and I are considering nominating him for beginning teacher of the year, just to see what would happen if he won. Though we like to give him shit for being a man-child, he puts up with being stuck in an office with three girls, so you have to give him credit for that. Even if his mum does still make him lunch every day. 
New name: The Prince. Treated like royalty by his mum, plus his dad is kind of a big deal in our little city. 
Mentor: Douchebag Poet. 

Intern 4: Oh hey, that's me. I'm an overthinker, I stress about stupid things, I regularly embarrass myself in front of my students and I try to hide my crippling self-esteem issues by making people laugh (which totally works, by the way). I'm generally cheerful unless I'm hungry. 
My new name: Socially Awkward. Thanks to DG for coming up with it. 
Mentor: Er, Mentor. He needs a new name too, I guess. Hyperactive Hamster. 

So that's the four of us. We are a happy little family and I feel really lucky to have met these guys. 

But there's a few other people worth mentioning, who don't fit the Intern/Mentor mould. 

Dr Dolittle: named for her penchant for rescuing animals, Dr Dolittle is a hilarious human being who gets more entertaining with every conversation. When I first met the doc, she appeared to be very organised, competent and self-assured. Now I know better- she's incredibly forgetful and absent-minded, so much so that she forgets to feed the animals she rescues for days on end. Dr Dolittle was previously known as Intern 5 because, even though she's a grad teacher, it always felt like she was part of our group. Like a step-sibling. We should really set up a desk and chair for her in our office. Plus a lot of people mistake her for an intern, or occasionally a prac student. Bless her. 

Exercise Junkie: This lovely lady is another grad teacher, who's currently on a health kick. Jacob's ladder and everythang. If I were to sum up Exercise Junkie in one word it would be 'classy'. I heard her swearing on Friday and it was awesome.

Sexy Vampire: Named after her Halloween costume, because I'm not very imaginative. Sexy Vampire is an English and Drama teacher, and she's feisty, funny and never neglects to tell me if I've killed a conversation.  

Music Man: Our school's one and only radio host. This grad manages to upset and offend staff by doing things such as: sending emails, and broadcasting on the radio. A true anarchist. He's also really into literature, so I was considering naming him 'The Walking Thesaurus' or 'Little Dickens'. But he's the only radio dude so Music Man seemed more appropriate. He's leaving at the end of this year to complete his PhD, but hopefully he visits often, or at least comes to the pub. 

The Queen: Though she's not an official boss, what this lady says, goes. She's English and proper and has a wealth of experience in teaching, and she's sort of the mother hen of the department. I imagine it will take a lot to keep us all in line next year, once the four of us move out of our little office into the big one, but if anyone can do it, The Queen can. 

My god that took way longer to write than I thought it would. But that's the family, or at least most of them from English. There's a few people from other departments that we love and/or hate, but that will have to wait for another day. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

"I don't think you realise how fortunate you are."

I've had a few people say this to me (and my fellow interns) since I was offered a position for 2015 at my placement school.

I don't want to seem ungrateful, but in the paraphrased words of Intern 2, I don't think you realise how hard we work. Yes, there are lots of teachers looking for jobs. And I really am very happy to be working at my school next year. But I certainly don't feel like I've been given a lucky break- this job is too consuming (in good ways and bad) to feel like luck.

Yesterday I had a challenging lesson. The class itself is made up of a good bunch of little humans, but for whatever reason there were outbursts, swearing, yelling, name-calling, underhanded bullying and more defiance than I had ever seen before, from these teenagers I had been teaching for the better part of a year. Someone ran away. Another student went for a walk to calm himself down, on the verge of screaming, because he hadn't had his medication and other students were trying irritate him without me noticing (noted). Another tried to steal someone's phone. Some shouted abuse at each other. Others ripped up their files and threw bits around the room. Looking back, it's amazing we got any work done at all. I felt like I was putting out fires for an hour.

Now that lesson was not the norm, and I am fortunate to have good colleagues who offered support. Intern 2's Mentor (should probably give her a better name) was a huge help and I'm very thankful for her assistance. And I don't want to seem like I'm complaining, I'm sure that other teachers have to deal with stuff like this, and worse, on a daily basis.

To be honest, although I feel somewhat embarrassed and guilty that all of the above occurred in my classroom, I did feel kinda proud of myself that I remembered my CMS, used language of choice, followed the process, didn't lose my shit and stood firm. At the end of the day, it was clear that I was still in charge of the classroom and when the bell for lunch went, no one moved an inch. Proud probably isn't the right word for it, but I felt... less frustrated, than I have after other challenging lessons.

So you see, it's interesting having a lesson like that (which is only a one-hour snapshot of my entire yesterday), then being reminded today how fortunate I am to have been offered a position, how teaching is a wonderful profession, how I need to make sure I'm constantly growing and reflecting and getting better- and god forbid if I act like I don't love every second of it.

If you are thinking about becoming a teacher, you should know it's a job that's challenging, rewarding, fun and fulfilling 95% of the time.

5% of the time it fucking sucks. I have a never-ending list of shit to do, some of which already feels meaningless and dear god I'm not even in my first year yet. I have to teach content that sometimes feels pointless to me, and somehow try to make it relevant and engaging to teenagers who are only in school because they don't yet have a job to go to. I am never as productive with my DOTT time as I want to be, because it's easy to tell myself that I'm looking after my mental health by chatting and laughing with Intern 3 and 5 instead of doing that damn marking. I waste hours sending letters home about work that hasn't been completed, or writing relief so I can sit in meetings where I say nothing. I hint, then suggest, then flat-out tell the people I'm supposed to tell that one of my students cannot read and needs to be tested for additional learning disabilities, and seethe in silence while nothing is done about it. I listen to students who tell me about the awful things they have to deal with when they go home, and I try not to get emotionally invested because I'm no good to them if I'm depressed. I wonder if that's just an excuse I tell myself so that I don't have to care. I feel guilty all the time for not caring enough, not planning enough, not marking enough, not being enough.

After being told in a meeting today, again, how fortunate I am to have a position next year, I thought about yesterday. I thought too about all those times when I have felt useless, frustrated and powerless to help my students in the way I wanted to. While I love my job, the challenges it brings, and the people I work with, I don't feel fortunate. I feel responsible.

Responsible for over 100 developing minds and fragile egos. Responsible for keeping my shit together and controlling my classes. Responsible for not being a dick and teasing Intern 5 too much, and just being a professional colleague in general. Responsible for my own resilience.

'Fortunate' makes me sound like a passive recipient of something. I'm not. I chose this internship, I chose this job and I choose to work at it. I recognise the opportunity I have been given and I'm not taking it for granted. That doesn't mean everything is easy.

So no, I guess I don't realise how fortunate I am. But I guess the people who keep telling me this don't realise how invested I feel.

Friday, 7 November 2014

"You can't do that."

So, I'm stubborn. I hate to be wrong, am bad at admitting it, and I'm most comfortable when I feel like I know everything that needs to be known. Teaching is not a profession that sits well with that mindset, as I've discovered.

Because I'm a rather stubborn asshole, there are four words that give me more motivation to do something than any offers of encouragement or praise.

"You can't do that."

To which I say (sometimes out loud, more often in my head- depending on who I'm talking to), "why not?"

Or, "Actually I think you'll find I can."

Weirdly, I'm a lot more willing to do something if it involves proving someone wrong, than proving them right if they encouraged me. I guess there's always a fear of letting someone else down, so when people tell me I can do things or I am good at something, I tend to shrug it off.

It's funny how I never listen when other people say those four words to me, yet so often we say them to ourselves. The best decisions I've made in life have all involved overcoming that initial voice in my head that says "You can't do that." I told myself I couldn't possibly talk to the person who is now my fiance. I told myself there was no way I could really work for the most profitable company in the world. I told myself I couldn't really be a teacher, what was I thinking? I certainly couldn't be an intern, what if I failed?

Luckily for me, I chose to ignore that voice at those crucial moments. I wonder how many times I've listened to it, and missed out on what could have been something amazing.

I wonder how often my students tell that to themselves. I wonder if I can teach them, along with English skillz, the value of ignoring it.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

You are your own worst critic, and your own best teacher.

At present I team-teach an ATAR class with my mentor (in other words, I get to do all the fun stuff and he marks their work for me). These kids are really lovely, not a single douchebag or mean-spirit among them. Which makes it hard to get mad at them when they don't listen, or follow my advice, or do anything remotely helpful to their education. But hey, I've been there and done that and I failed Year 11 myself, so I can hardly blame them. No point in assuming a teenager will believe you when you say you know what's best for them.

Anyway my point is, I've been trying to get these guys to become more reflective on themselves as learners, or, if you wanna use edu-wank, metacognitive. I've been trying to tell them that by this point in their schooling lives, they should have a fairly good idea of who they are, what they're good at and what they struggle with. They should be able to recognise when they're taking risks, making mistakes or not grasping something. 

But it's weird, because they don't. These lovely teenagers, who are way more mature, respectful and clever than I remember being at that age, have absolutely no idea where their own abilities lie. Some of them become so overly critical of themselves that they are blinded by futility, unable to recognise their own strengths and opportunities to improve. This stumps me, because I can teach you how to write an essay, I can teach which conventions mean what, I can teach you how to break down a question or a marking key... but I can't teach you how to think for yourself. And I've discovered that too often students are so busy trying to guess how to make the teacher happy that they forget about themselves. 

Tomorrow, I want to tell them that if they don't know who they are, everything else is pointless. You can have a supportive home environment, an amazing teacher, top of the range resources and a work ethic to rival Stephen King, but if you don't understand yourself, you will be fumbling around in the dark. If you know yourself and believe in yourself, everything becomes so much easier. I remembered a clip from Scrubs that addresses this really well, will show my students tomorrow.

Funny how in this video Dr. Cox expresses the realisation I had in my first blog post. Perhaps it stuck in my mind somewhere; advice from a fictional character to a different sort of intern, in a similar sort of situation to me. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Essential questions.

Today I rolled up my metaphorical sleeves and did some explicit teaching of essay structure with my new Year 8 class.

Factors to consider:

-They were having immunisations that morning and were rather distracted at the thought of being jabbed with pointy things. 
-I had taken antihistamines for my raging hayfever and as a result was feeling a bit spacey. 
-Essay structure, in their opinion, has nothing to do with their debating task (little do they know...)
-I still don't know everyone's name. 

All in all, it went well! Kids all learnt something they didn't know before. Or at the very least, they pretended to. They were all involved, the environment was positive AND they said it went fast (most often a sign of a good lesson, as my mentor teacher once explained to me). 

I'm feeling much more relaxed this term. Might be because I'm no longer being assessed -I'm so close to being qualified I can smell it- or it might be because I've been left to my own devices for most of the classes I teach, which is fun, if I don't overthink everything. 

This term I'm trying a new thing with lesson planning where I ask myself three questions. This is how I worked out my lessons this morning. 

1. What am I teaching? 

Essay structure. Bo-ring. I've learned that in my experience this is the least important question to consider when planning. Kinda annoyed at myself that it took me this long to realise. 

2. How am I teaching it? 

Well, I don't know the class too well, but they didn't love reading the stuff I handed out last lesson. And they do love chatting. And moving around. And drawing pictures. So let's try to work with what they like. 

So first we did an active brainstorm, where they got to pop up out of their seat and share an idea. Then I drew a diagram on the board for essay structure, with labels. Gave them some time to discuss each section and how they would explain the labels. Chose pairs at random to share, paraphrased, wrote on board. Copy it down, minions. After that they put back together an essay "puzzle" that I had given to each group; figuring out which sentence went where. 
So they got to: 
- Move
- Draw 
- Write 
- Discuss 
- Arrange
- Justify
Of course, this doesn't happen every lesson. But if I was a better teacher, it might. 

And finally, the most important question. 

3. Why am I teaching it? 

If I don't know the answer to this (and 'because they need to know' is simply not good enough), then it doesn't matter how much content I try to jam down their throats, or how engaging and fun I make the lesson activities- my students will not want to learn. Another way to word the question might be "Why are they learning it?" and the beautiful thing about teenagers is that they have no fear in asking, "Why do I have to know this, Miss? What's in it for me?" 

If I can't give them a decent answer straight away, I'm not doing my job properly. And I care very much about doing my job properly. 

So, why am I teaching essay structure? Because formal writing is a game and to play a game well, you need to know the rules. You need to know when to follow them, and when to break them. Or as I told my Year 8s, you need to know what the skeleton looks like before you flesh it out. Or you could end up with a headless man. 

It was a fun double-period and the students really enjoyed the activities and games (from what I could tell). I'll think back on this morning whenever I have a shiddy day. 

I'm starting to think I'm getting the hang of this. I no longer feel like I'm barely keeping my head above water from one moment to the next. It's good to believe that I sometimes know what I'm doing :)

Friday, 17 October 2014

Fun lessons and boring meetings.

Be warned, this is a huge post. Get your skim on if you don't wanna come along on my journey through time.

Yesterday was a prime example of my hectic teacher lyfe. Even when you're teaching the same classes in the same school, every day is so different and sometimes I go through way more emotions than I thought I had.

Before period 1: Happy, listening to music.
Still before period 1: Serious, confused and slightly offended- talking to The Grad about all the things I don't know, and trying to respond to the statement "I hope you don't burn out next year." (Seriously what do I say to that? "thanks, me too?") 

Period 1: Self-assured. New class is listening to me... Oh look, Second-Mentor/Acting Dean is walking past.. Um, what was I saying. Now feeling easily distracted. Off to the library. Yes, you will read in silence. No, four of you cannot giggle over one magazine. Seriously guys I can see you talking. I CAN SEE YOU. I wear glasses but I'm not blind. Stahp. Stubborn determination leads to triumphant victory as they all shut up and read. Now I feel kinda guilty.. 

Period 2 (DOTT): Phew, thank god that's over. I didn't think I could stand another second of silence. Walk back to English office. Escort year 12 student (their last day and he is dressed up as a teacher) out of office and to Intern 3's class. Intern 3 said he had food but I don't see any. I'm out. 

Period 2 (still on DOTT): Happy, talking to Mentor. Less happy listening to Mentor. Proceed to sass/yell at Mentor. Escape to intern office and curl up on the floor, wondering if Mentor now hates me. Comforted by Intern 1. No longer angry but pretty guilty. 

Morning tea: Content, setting up food with Intern 1 and Intern 5 (who isn't actually an intern but that's another story). Guilt and tension creeps back and I go take some food to Mentor. Mentor isn't mad at me (at least he says he's not). Relieved. 

Period 3: Excited! Rowdy kids are making posters today and everyone is into it. I've enlisted the help of Mentor and Intern 3 to role-play advertising pitches, using posters the kids have created. We have to try to sell something unsellable and it could all go horribly wrong but hey, let's give it a try. I pitch 'stalkers', Intern 3 pitches 'a bloody shirt' and Mentor pitches 'Roadkill'. (They're learning advertising conventions, I swear). Roleplay is a success! Kids voted for their fave, we called it a draw but I still think I won. 
Intern 3 and I bail because we have to go to a meeting at uni. Feeling kinda sad I have to ditch this class and not see my other two. 

Meeting: God, this is horrible. What are they saying? What is up with uni teachers and not speaking loudly enough? I'm bored and hungry (no time for lunch, should have eaten more at morning tea) and rapidly running out of patience. Intern 2 and I keep exchanging glances because she has even less patience for pointless stuff than I do. 

Feeling angry. Seriously why are we here? You have given me a worksheet of absolutely no value, not given me enough time to write a decent answer and now you've just admitted you hadn't thought about what you were going to do with the worksheet once we finished it. Even though the sheet says write advice to future interns, apparently you weren't actually going to pass on that advice. So why are we doing this then? Are you fucking with me? Am I being punk'd? 
The problem with being passionate about teaching is that I get really angry at the hypocrisy from people at uni. Don't tell me to make lessons engaging and student-centred if you clearly can't demonstrate that you understand what that means. Anger gives way to annoyance and apathy as we "discuss" the worksheet. (Uni person is doing most of the talking.. I thought you wanted to hear OUR ideas, not your own re-wording of everything we say? You don't have to validate and paraphrase everything, we're not idiots.) 

Feeling distracted at ringing noise in the room. Ah, Science-girl is presenting on dyslexia. Trying to write with my left hand is fun, but impossible. Increased wave of empathy for dyslexic students that I teach. Should probably be making more adjustments. Guilty. 

Intern 3 presents, I click 'next' for the slides. Because I'm a super-nice person and helpful like that. I try not to predict when to change slides this time because last time I did that I went too fast. Feeling proud of Intern 3 and Science-Girl for presenting to a tough crowd. These other interns are way too serious. 

Elation as meeting finally finishes. I'm so hungry! Go grab some food and coffee and meet the others at the tavern. Yay, this is the Friday I'm used to. We remember we are supposed to attend a networking event that possibly involves alcohol. Go suss out event, find out when alcohol is being served and return to the tavern until then. See my dad at the Tav (he works at uni). Hi, Dad!

Back to networking event. Impatience rising. Wait aaaages while people give patronising speeches (I was particularly unimpressed by the 'raise your hand if you're the first person in your family to get a degree.' Way to make yourselves sound like such a big deal, and my family sound like peasants). 

By this time I really need to pee. Feeling uncomfortable. Finally get a moment to run to the bathroom and make it back just in time for group photo. Feeling like a winner. 

Photo done, food and drinks are served and like the flick of a switch, my mood changes to being incredibly proud and thankful to be here, with some of the best people I've ever met.

Despite the peaks and troughs, that's the same emotion most of my days end on. For that I'm pretty lucky.